by Laura Anne Gilman
If you write your story in one go-and-done, then this entry is not for you. Kick back, and come back next week.
Still with me? Excellent. So you’ve done the hard lifting: you’ve gotten from Once Upon A Time to “And then dragons ate them all” – oh sorry, “Happily Ever After.” You have what many of us refer to as “Draft Zero.”
At this point, you have two options.
You may read over it and think “yes, perfect!” If so, in my editorial experience, you’re either lazy or letting your ego run the show to the detriment of the actual performance. But if you’re still reading, you have already gotten past that.
You may read over it and think “oh my god it sucks.” This is something you will hear many many times, from writers (myself included) who should know better.
It’s a draft. It’s supposed to suck. It might, in fact, suck like a Hoover on steroids. You might have to scalpel out the bits that work and toss the rest to the scrap heap.
That doesn’t mean you can’t write. It doesn’t mean the book won’t work. It doesn’t even mean that you went in the wrong direction and need to start again (although you might).
Every book you write is a new experience, and you’re (hopefully) using new skills learned since the last go-round. If you expect to get it all right – while crafting an entirely new story – in the first go-round, it’s time to Let. It. Go.
Recognizing that you didn’t get it right straight out of the gate, and being willing to start again, is one of the places where the line between professionals and amateurs is drawn. A professional knows that their “it sucks” reaction is just part of the process.
There is no room for ego in Draft Zero.
Nothing is sacred. You may think that the words, once on the page, are inviolate. You may believe that the story as you first envisioned it is the only way it can be told. But a story evolves as we tell it. What we come to at the end informs what we said at the beginning, just as the beginning shapes the end (story as Oroborous worm). Your understanding of the story you are telling is not complete until the telling is done.
Words are meant to be erased/deleted/scrawled out with extreme prejudice. This is particularly true in Draft Zero. Nobody is reading over your shoulder making comments about neatness (if they are, give them a sharp elbow in the chest and tell them to go make you a cup of tea). As you ignored the inner editor while writing, now is when it’s time to let him/her in. Listen to the hard truths about the work. Keep the ego outside the door until you’re done. When you hit “final draft” (or as I call it, “my editor gets to see this one” draft) then ego gets to come out and strut.
Coming up in Week 39: Follow No False Gods
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, including the upcoming urban fantasy TRICKS OF THE TRADE (12/11), and THE SHATTERED VINE, Book 3 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy (10/11). Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future,” was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.